What is Fire Blight and How is It Threatening Your Plants?

Is your garden looking a little…toasted? If the leaves and blossoms on your shrubs and trees look scorched, it may be because of some pesky microscopic bacteria rather than the heat, a drought, or last night’s campfire. Fire blight is a disease that leaves plants looking scorched and crisp. But, it has nothing to do with actual fire or even drought conditions. So what is fire blight, and how is it threatening your plants? The Monster Tree Service team is here to explain fire blight, help you identify the signs, and suggest methods of prevention and treatment. Let’s put out the threat of fire blight together!


What is Fire Blight?

Fire blight is a highly contagious bacterial disease that targets plants in the rose family. It’s a problem for over 130 different tree species but mainly affects apple and pear trees. Fire blight attacks the blossoms, leaves, branches, and even truck and root systems of trees. The bacteria leave the infected area looking brown and crisp, as if scorched by fire. If you see signs of fire blight, watch out! This plant disease spreads like wildfire. It can kill an entire orchard of trees if left untreated.


What Causes Fire Blight?

While it may look like drought or underwatering causes fire blight at first, that is not the case! Instead, the Erwinia amylovora bacterium is the culprit behind fire blight. These pesky bacteria enter and infect the plant through openings, including flower buds, leaf tears, and splintered branches. In addition, fire blight can spread through unclean gardening tools, pollinators, proximity to infected plants, and even rain.


Signs of Fire Blight

While the number one sign of fire blight is a scorched appearance on flower buds and leaves, there are other warning signs to consider. Here are the top signs of fire blight to look out for.

  • Wilted blossoms

  • Brown leaves

  • Scorch marks on blossoms, leaves, branches, or other areas

  • Brown or shriveled fruit that doesn’t fall from the branch

  • Cankers on the tree trunk or root system

  • Dark, cracking, or peeling bark

  • White to golden brown ooze from infected areas


Top 3 Ways to Prevent Fire Blight

Stop fire blight before it begins. Here are the top three ways to prevent fire blight in your garden.

1. Plant Resistant Tree Species

The best way to prevent fire blight is to plant tree species more resistant to the disease. While apple and pear trees are the most susceptible to fire blight, that doesn’t mean you have to avoid planting them all together. (Especially if you want some fresh produce!) For example, the Red Delicious variety of apple trees is much more resistant to fire blight than the Gala variety. Learn what plants thrive in your region before planting.

2. Fertilize Trees Properly

The next step to fire blight prevention is proper fertilization. Over-fertilizing or fertilizing at the wrong point in the season can leave plants more susceptible to fire blight disease. Fertilizer helps plants produce new growth, which is great. However, new growth is at a higher risk of infection. Research what your plant needs before overdoing it on the fertilizer!

3. Prune Your Trees

Finally, make sure to prune your trees correctly. Pruning with dull or dirty tools can cause a tree to splinter, leaving openings for fire blight bacteria. While over-pruning can deplete a tree’s resources, making it harder to recover if infected. If you have high-risk species in your garden, you may want to consult an arborist who can trim your trees and shrubs with expert care.


What to Do If Your Trees are Already Infected With Fire Blight

Prevention is great, but what do you do if your trees are already infected with fire blight? Here are the next steps you should take to care for your trees and prevent the spread.

  • Ideally, remove fire-blight-infected branches during the dormant season.

  • Invest in copper-based fungicides to slow the spread of infection.

  • Worst case, remove the tree completely to stop the spread to other plants.

  • When in doubt, consult a certified arborist for a professional opinion.


Put Out the Threat of Fire Blight

Unfortunately, no plant is completely immune to fire blight. However, our professional tree and plant health experts at Monster Tree Service can help you manage and mitigate any plant disease before it spreads like wildfire through your garden. Contact one of our independently owned locations near you that knows how to protect plants in your region. Together, we can put out the threat of fire blight!